The maps that Dr. Robert T. Tally Jr. studies are made of words rather than lines and shapes.
He examines authors’ choices in writing about a place and its human context — what details to include, what to leave undescribed — and how those choices help readers make sense of the world being presented to them.
Tally is the United States’ leading scholar in spatial literary studies, a field that interprets place in literature. He’s also a professor of English at Texas State University.
“One of the things I like about the idea of a map,” Tally muses, “is that everyone knows what it is … and we all know that it’s completely fictional.” A map, after all, is only a limited representation of a place, not the place itself.
Tally is adept at navigating this relationship between the real and the unreal. His spatial analyses cover actual places — London, Dublin — and imaginary ones such as George R.R. Martin’s Westeros. He points out that the boundary isn’t always as clear as we might assume. Take, for example, a tourism website promoting a filming location for the book-series-turned-television-show Game of Thrones, advertising the opportunity to see Blackwater Bay from the ramparts of a medieval castle. Tally explains, “The castle is an 11th-century castle, but Blackwater Bay is fictional. They merged the real and the fictional in that one sentence.”
By studying spatial aspects of literature, Tally asserts, “we deliver a better, more complete, more interesting picture of human social experience” in our various worlds: local, national, global and fantastical.
Tally’s research areas include:
- spatial literary studies
- 19th- and 20th-century American literature
- theory of the novel
- fantasy and utopia
Tally has published:
- 7 scholarly monographs
- 7 edited collections of essays
- 34 journal articles
- 34 book chapters
- 26 book reviews